App Wars

New axisReader vs. old OverDrive

Following Hachette’s press release about their new offers to libraries, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and 3M announced that they would be the distributors of Hachette’s 5000 or so digital titles. I am very familiar with Overdrive, but was interested in learning more about the others. There are so many ebook distributors I didn’t know about, such as…

I became familiar with Overdrive for the purpose of assisting patrons, but I definitely use it myself now as well. Earlier this month The Digital Reader announced that Baker and Taylor had a new app for library eBooks: axisReader. This new reading application has the usual dictionary, search, bookmark, but it also allows sharing via social media. This is something I had never encountered in Overdrive. With axisReader you can share any favourite quotes right onto Facebook and Twitter. According to the article, you can also customize everything from your background (including night mode), to themes, line spacing and font.

It is no surprise then, that on May 28th OverDrive will be releasing a new version of their app. Version 2.6.5 is not only concentrated on fixing some bugs, but is going to compete with axisReader by enhancing other features. Upon opening the app, OverDrive is promoting their “performance improvements”. They list the following:

  1. Adjust your reading experience with the optional multi-column view
  2. Pan and zoom charts and images in eBooks using the image viewer
  3. Change the font style with bold fonts
  4. The eBooks reader now includes sliding page transitions
  5. A new, redesigned audiobook player
  6. Browse library titles in the app for OverDrive-powered sites
  7. OverDrive Media Console uses Google Analytics to compile anonymous usage data (unsure if the public wants to know they are always being surveyed)
  8. Share your opinions with other book lovers on Goodreads

I like the new developments, and can appreciate their attempt at improving the “user experience”. Nevertheless, reading apps such as these, which will be used in libraries, need to focus more so on clarity and functionality, and less on fancy features. The more options and buttons crowding the already small reading platform, the more the content is overshadowed. I also would question the necessity of social media links. Personally Twitter and Facebook would pull me out of my reading. Not okay.

All in all, I might download axisReader. You know, for market research.


The Price of Currency

How much does it cost to keep libraries current? 

Was I just assuming that everyone was on board with selling eBooks to libraries? It certainly came as a surprise to me when I read that Hachette was just expanding their eBook catalogue now. Apparently Hachette had only offered a limited selection to libraries, but recently decided to make their entire list of digital publications available. Wait! There’s a catch, but I am sure you knew that already. Price. Publishers have to sell eBooks at a high price to libraries, because libraries will be lending them out to various patrons. This makes sense, sure, but some commentators are claiming their mark up to be extortion.

Nate Hoffelder, for The Digital Reader, has an opinion on the matter. He writes, “Never mind that the consumer price for the hardback will actually be in the $10 to $20 range; the year-old eBook will cost $45 (about). But at least the eBooks will be available.” It is just me, or does this sound a little backhanded? Hoffelder seems to disapprove with the prices placed on eBooks. Hachette, however, are not the first to feel weary about their eBooks ending up on a library’s catalogue. Simon and Schuster recently established a pilot project licensing out their titles for one year. Random House raised their prices. Penguin was on the fence for a while. HarperCollins only allowed 26 lucky readers to handle their eBooks (Digital Reader May 1st, 2013). So what’s the big deal?

I think I could probably argue both sides. The Publisher needs to make money, but the library also needs digital material. It is important to remember that the library is a customer, and an invaluable one at that. It is a reliable client, which will undoubtedly need multiple copies due to wear and tear after repeated use. However, eBooks can’t be mangled, making a higher price justifiable.

Conversely, at the end of the day, the library needs as many digital titles as it can get to remain current. It has to be ready to offer books in all formats for all readerships. The library has an obligation to promote literacy but also make it highly accessible to any and all patrons.  Finally, there is one other thing to take into consideration. Do libraries promote sales? I know many instances where I have found books in the library that I have later purchased. The library could be an extension of marketing.

Demanding Options

The eBook: Another Format, yet Another Option

I experienced the eBook revolution more so as a library employee than as a reader. That is to say, it would have taken me a lot longer to embrace the change, if it wasn’t for the patrons asking me about Adobe Reader, OverDrive, and KOBO. I did not own, and still do not own, an eReader. However, I quickly downloaded OverDrive to my iPhone in order to confront all the questions. Staff would gear up for the post-Christmas season of eReader troubleshooting. We read endless emails about help functions to direct patrons to and pamphlets to hand out. You could add “Device Expert” next to “Reader’s Advisory” on my list of duties.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t a complete expert then, nor am I one now. What I am is really interested in eBooks, as they pertain to libraries. BookNet Canada’s President, Noah Genner, pointed out that, “The research suggests that the eBook market in Canada may have reached a plateau…Early 2013 data backs this up”. After the eReader boom, and the surge of backlist titles into the digital market alongside new releases, the waters are just now beginning to calm. EBooks are not going anywhere folks. Just give them a chance to get comfortable.

It seems that publishers and libraries alike got really excited, or scared, and began adapting as necessary, expanding their digital output. Is a plateau really that bad though? Sure, sales aren’t going up, but they aren’t going down either. The glass is half full. Not long ago we were worried physical books were fading out. Perhaps this fear was brought on by major publications ceasing to exist in a physical format such as: Encyclopedia Britannica (1768-2012), Oxford English Dictionary (1884-2010) and Newsweek (1933-2012).

Let’s have a moment of silence.

Truth is physical books are still in demand, and now here we are worrying about eBook sales. It seems “Canadians still prefer to buy their books in physical stores. 34% of book purchases were made in non-book retailers, 37% in bookstores and 25% online—print book purchases made online account for 19% of those online sales” (Canadian Ebook Market Plateaus). So why is that, do you think?

Perhaps now is a time of stepping back and gathering data from consumers. Consumers, who are getting to know their own reading styles and preferences. The more I talk to people the more I realize it doesn’t come down to a commitment to electronic over physical. It’s both! Pamela Millar, the Director of Customer Relations at BooknNet Canada relays, “We’ve found that the dominant factor in selecting a retailer is convenience”. What if the same goes for reader’s preferences? Maybe I prefer to read on my KOBO during my commute to work, but can’t wait to get my hands on a heavy hardcover when I get home. Likewise, patrons at the library demand options for their own convenience.